by Edmund R. Schubert
Faith Hunter—best known as creator of the dark urban fantasy Skinwalker series featuring Jane Yellowrock—is a New York Timesand USA Today bestselling author with multiple books, series, and compilations in print. Jane Yellowrock is a Cherokee skinwalker who tracks, hunts, and kills rogue-vampires for a living — that is, until she takes a gig working for Leo Pellissier, the Master of the City of New Orleans. The series is set in an alternate-reality, modern-day world, one inhabited by humans, vampires, and other things that go bump in the night. Faith has written numerous other urban fantasy series; she also writes mysteries and thrillers under the name Gwen Hunter and has over 40 novels in print in 29 countries.
I had the good fortune to have a short story appear alongside one of Faith Hunter’s in the weird western anthology, Lawless Lands, published by Falstaff Books. The following interview is compiled from a series of emails she and I exchanged about the anthology and writing in general. It has been edited for length, clarity, and focus.
Edmund Schubert: I was proofreading the ebook version of the Lawless Lands anthology–well, I was proofreading my story and then just started reading some of the others–and something jumped out at me. Your prose seemed to me to be so genuinely alive. Reading it was a truly immersive experience; I ‘felt’ the world you were describing, as opposed to just seeing and hearing it. I was hoping you might talk a little about how you go about accomplishing that.
For starters, how much of what you do is intentional vs. instinctual? I could easily imagine that with as many books as you’ve written, a lot of what you do is like muscle-memory for an athlete: automatic.
Faith Hunter: Somewhat Automatic. It’s two things:
- Most writers forget texture, taste, the feel of the air, temperature, weather conditions, the time of year/season/day. They forget smell. My skinwalker characters are part animal and so smell is important to them and I do a LOT more smell for them. Less smell for human characters. It’s what I call scene-rooting and it’s all of the above. It is what gives writing immediacy. For me, it’s done in rewrites and it includes all those things that need to be (subtly) reminded to the reader. It’s the details that pull the reader into the story and keep them there. It’s the change in the position of the sun, the way the character starts to sweat in the desert, or has to cover up at night. They have to get hungry, pee, and notice things in their environment (consciously or not) just like we do.
- How the POV characters feel about events as they take place, how they respond both physically and emotionally. How those plot conflicts make the character change, even if only slightly, even if only temporarily.
Schubert: Are there things you make a point of doing/adding/addressing when you write your first draft? And when do you do your revisions? I’ve heard of other writers who start each day by reviewing/editing their previous day’s work. Is that your routine as well?
Hunter: My first draft is plot-point to plot-point, with hints of the above that I’ll expand on as I go. I edit that rough draft the very next day. It helps to keep tone and voice consistent.
Schubert: How many drafts do you write? Is there any kind of pattern you follow as you do revisions?
Hunter: When I do that initial rewrite (the day after I do the first draft) I look to make it immediate. (See original list of things I add.) That’s also when I add the reaction the character has to the rising conflict. These are mostly smaller things and may take place in dialogue or stage direction. (“He swatted flies, his gestures jerky.” As opposed to “He swatted flies, the gesture lazy.”) It isn’t big things. They don’t smell everything, every time, or get sweaty every time. It’s small hints that are sometimes accidently expressed in a passive voice. The third draft takes out the passive voice and searches for every single, “he felt, he heard,” etc. and turn them into action.
It’s a process. Like building a house: Foundation. Wall-studs and roofing-studs. Roof. Electrical and plumbing. Wallboard. Then the pretty stuff, like painting and such. And it’s why my muse is such an ugly, mean bastard. There’s so much work to do.
Schubert: For clarification, how do you see these two lines as being fundamentally different? Why do you prefer the one over the other? “He swatted flies, his gestures jerky.” As opposed to “He swatted flies, the gesture lazy.”
Hunter: LOL. I was half asleep when I wrote that.
But actually the second one is more passive and it is ‘telling’. The big difference here is between his and the. The first one is inside the POV character’s head; the second might be what the POV character sees. A better expression of this concept would be, “She felt the ocean rising on her thighs, warm, caressing, as the tide came in.” vs.: “The ocean caressed her thighs, warm, rising with the tide.” It’s all very subtle.
Schubert: One of my favorite things on the Magical Words blog (www.MagicalWords.net) were the posts where you showed two different ways of writing something and then discussed why one was more effective than the other. You’ve done that again here and it’s amazing to see what a difference a seemingly tiny difference in word-choice can make. The idea of building a sentence around a pronoun to make it more intimate vs. building it around the word ‘the’ seems too simple to make that much difference, yet the effect is undeniable. Very intriguing.
Hunter: It’s my version of show-don’t-tell. It’s a lot easier to see what works when you hold it up next to something that’s not as effective.
Schubert: Speaking of effective, I can’t help but notice that in addition to the language in your second example being livelier, it’s also more efficient: ten words vs. fifteen. Fewer words, greater impact. What more can a writer ask for?
Hunter: Thank you. I call it the micro edit.
Schubert: And I’m going to call this a micro interview, because I think we’re done.
Schubert:Thanks for the time and insight.
Hunter: My pleasure.
The Lawless Lands anthology is available now. Faith’s story, “Wolves Howling in the Night” is just a few pages before my own, “Calliope Stark: Bone Tree Bounty Hunter.”
Edmund R. Schubert is author of one novel, Dreaming Creek, and 50+ short stories. Select early short stories are collected in The Trouble with Eating Clouds; newer ones can be found in This Giant Leap. Schubert also edited and contributed to the non-fiction book, How to Write Magical Words. After editing the online magazine InterGalactic Medicine Show (IGMS) for ten years (including publishing three IGMS anthologies and winning two WSFA Small Press Awards), Schubert resigned from editing in 2016 to make writing his primary focus. He is currently a graduate student at Converse College, working on his MFA.
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Great interview and spot on. The details are what makes Faith a great author. I’ve read everything faith has written, and whether it’s Urban Fantasy, medical procedurals, or mystery, they all have that in common.
I’m sure if they had Faith write the phone book, it to wold be a best seller!